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Levine: Jon Lester Challenging Himself To Be Better

By Bruce Levine-

MESA, Ariz. (CBS) -- You might assume after signing a seven-year, $155-million contract that Cubs left-hander Jon Lester would be content with his work habits and results to this point. You would also be mistaken, as a lesson you learn about him is not to assume anything.

"Jon is never doing anything that isn't productive," catcher and longtime friend David Ross said. "He has his time organized, and it's all about preparation for his next start."

Teammates who have been around the all-business approach of Lester have garnered something for themselves by watching the day-to-day grind-it-out routine that the 31-year-old Lester puts himself through.

"It was eye opening for me," said former teammate Ryan Dempster, who is in Cubs camp as a special instructor. "Jon taught me some things I used in my last season preparation. I never saw a more committed direction of effort prior to and after a start."

Incredibly, Dempster was talking about learning from a pitcher who was seven years younger and had 10 fewer years of professional experience. Now nearly a month into spring training, there's more of an understanding of what the Cubs front office knew about Lester and that which few others in baseball had a concept of.

For Lester and the Cubs, Monday wasn't a great day. Starting against the Padres, Lester gave up two home runs and six runs in 3 1/3 innings. Sloppy defense behind  him didn't help, as the Cubs committed two errors. Despite that, all the runs were earned and were the first runs scored off Lester this spring.

On a positive note, Lester got his pitch count up to 71 with three weeks left until Opening Day. Lester will be able to build up to 100 pitches and easily back off the pitch count in preparation for his April 5 start against the Cardinals.

"Nothing today I threw was sharp," Lester said. "I was up in the zone and not able to repeat pitches. When you have starts like that, the biggest thing is to minimize the damage and make the pitches when you have to. Today was obviously not the case for me. I must relearn how to be in those situations."

Lester took little joy out of running up his pitch count.

"Just giving up six or seven runs even in spring training is very frustrating to me," he said. "No matter how you look at it, 70 pitches in three innings is not good. I have a lot of things to improve on in my next bullpen."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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